Texas DWIs and Sleeping in Your Car

Posted by Doug Murphy | Nov 12, 2021 | 0 Comments

After a night on the town with friends, sometimes we realize we've had a bit too much to drink. But even if you do the responsible thing and decide to sleep it off in your car, you can still be arrested for a DWI in Texas. If the Houston police arrested you for DWI when you were sleeping in your car, you have options. An experienced Texas DWI attorney can help, developing the best possible defense for your case.

DWI in Texas

Under Texas law, driving while intoxicated involves "operating" a motor vehicle:

  • In a public place,
  • With a blood alcohol content of .08% or more, or .04% or more with a commercial driver's license, or
  • Without the normal use of your mental or physical faculties.

See Tex. Criminal Code § 49.01.

As a result, you don't necessarily have to have a BAC over the legal limit to find yourself charged with a DWI. Whether you still had the normal use of your mental or physical faculties is a subjective judgment made by a police officer.

A “public place” doesn't necessarily have to mean a public highway or road. It can include any place that's normally open to the public, including a parking lot or even a private road leading to your home and several others. While both may be private property, they can still be a “public place” concerning Texas DWI laws.

Sleeping and Not Driving

But what is “operating a motor vehicle” in Texas? What if you're just sleeping in the backseat of your car? If you've been drinking, does this mean you've been “operating a motor vehicle” while intoxicated? Under the Texas DWI statute, a motor vehicle is any “device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway….” But the statute doesn't define “operating” a motor vehicle.

According to Texas case law, “operating” a motor vehicle means making a vehicle function in a way that enables you to use it. Some situations where courts have convicted Texans of DWI include:

  • Sleeping or sitting in the driver's seat of a car,
  • The keys are in the ignition of the car, or
  • Someone identifies you as having driven the car.

Meaning “operating” a car is an extremely broad and subjective definition, and the police may stretch this characterization even further to arrest you for DWI. You might be fine if you're asleep in the back seat or the keys aren't in the ignition. But if you turn the car on to access the radio, charge your phone, or turn on the air conditioning, the police may consider that to be “operating” a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Hire an Expert in Texas DWI Law

If you're facing a DWI after sleeping it off in your car, a guilty verdict isn't a foregone conclusion. Remember that you are innocent until proven guilty, and the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were intoxicated and that you were operating a motor vehicle. Attorney Doug Murphy is an expert in Texas DWI law. He is one of only two attorneys in the state who is Board-Certified in Texas Criminal Defense Law and DWI Defense.

Doug is also on U.S. News & World Report's list of the Best Lawyers in America for DWI defense in Houston in 2021. He has years of experience aggressively defending Houston citizens in complex DWI matters, and he can help you too. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm today at 713-229-8333 or contact them online to schedule your consultation.

About the Author

Doug Murphy

Doug Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and also in DWI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense, accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.


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If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.

Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C.
902 Heights Blvd.
Houston, TX 77008
713-583-0205 (fax)